Why the PTA/PTO Is So Important for High School Parents
Ask any parent or guardian to recall memorable days in their children’s lives and a first day of school is bound to come up. In the beginning, sending children off to school can be anxiety provoking. Will they make friends? Will they learn? Will they behave nicely? Will they be happy?
These concerns, as well as an interest in the school their children/guardians are attending, inspires many to get involved. However, by the time children are in high school, these specific anxieties have mostly faded (though others probably have arisen), and many parents step away from involvement at their child’s school.
For students who struggle to advocate for themselves, are very shy, anxious about reaching out to school personnel, etc, parental engagement is not only beneficial can may even be necessary. Even if your high school children don’t fit that bill, there are good reasons parents should think twice before looking away.
Being Involved is a Benefit
Parental involvement in a child’s education is beneficial. Many studies including The Harvard Family Research Project have found parental involvement “is associated with higher student achievement.” In fact, parent engagement “is the most accurate predictor of academic achievement.”
One way to remain engaged with a child’s education is to be part of the PTA/PTO (Parent Teacher Association/Parent Teacher Organization). Some might look at the PTA/PTO as something to be involved in during the early years but dismiss it during high school. After all, most high school aged children don’t necessarily want their parents/guardians around so much. Similarly, some parents/guardians are leery of being helicopter parents, and want to give their children freedom.
However, parents/guardians being part of the PTA during their children’s high school years is beneficial, with the two main beneficiaries being the children and the school.
Why It’s Helpful to Your Child
Many children feel they are ready to be academically independent when they reach high school. Yet, they are not fully mature, and parents can still be of assistance.
“High school is the last time you’ll be involved with them educationally because in college, they make their own academic decisions,” says Tangela Walker-Craft. The former language arts teacher and current blogger adds that “not knowing what is going on can jeopardize your child academically.” The parent of one believes stepping back means losing a time, “when you can actually be a parent.”
The Value of Establishing Relationships
Being active in the PTA leads to spending time in the school. While that time may be focused on a wide variety of tasks, it’s also an opportunity to get to know staff and administration. These informal relationships can prove helpful to the children/guardians.
“There’s no substitute for face time with the teacher,” says Charissa West. The blogger and mother of three young children (and member of the PTA at her oldest child’s elementary school) spent nine years as a classroom teacher at the high school level. “Members of the PTO get to know teachers and administrators in a helpful, positive way.”
This relationship can lead to conversations that West says “might not happen over email or phone.” In addition, there’s greater trust and appreciation which leads to more being shared.
Amy Bewley, an administrator at the Academy for Science and Design (grades 6-12) in New Hampshire agrees. “I know every parent who is active in PTO. Because we’ve formed a relationship, I’m more apt to reach out and share with them when I see their student doing something good.”
Because the typical high school has more students than the elementary and middle school, there are more adults involved. In addition, students go from having a few or even one teacher to many. Thus, navigating the landscape is more difficult.
Parents/guardians can only help their child if they themselves are aware. “The learning curve of knowing who to go to for what is eased for PTA members since they know the building better from their time in it,” says West.
Opportunities that arise are more likely to be recognized. “When a parent/guardian is around, they know what’s going and learn about opportunities,” says Walker-Craft.
Finding the Right Crowd
A parent’s/guardian’s presence gives them a chance to see the students in a different light. Bewley, a mother of three, including one who is a student at the school where she works, is also a PTA member. As such she got to see her children’s peers — who they hang out with — gaining insight she otherwise would not have had.
“My oldest was hanging out with kids who were not great influences,” says Bewley. “I saw a different side to these kids at school from when then were in my house.” Bewley and her husband strove to guide their son in a more positive direction.
“It’s a good way to be involved with other kids and your kids’ friends,” says West. “You can keep a thumb on what’s going on.”
How You Make School Better
The PTA does countless things for a school from supporting teachers by making copies to raising money for afterschool activities to coordinating events. Then, there’s fundraising. Such needs remain at the high school level.
“A school that has an active engaged PTA benefits greatly,” says West. “They fundraise and are the leaders in certain activities, and ultimately do the things that make school fun.” She notes that paid staff could not do the work of the PTA and their regular jobs.
PTA members are also influential in deciding what happens at a school. Walker-Craft likens them to lobbyists with the school playing the role of government. “The PTO can influence decisions made by the school, and shape what happens there.”
Some might view such engagement as a thing of the past since everyone is busy these days. Not so fast says Bewley. “The PTO is necessary. Every school has needs including fundraising that the PTO fills, and schools benefit from their presence.”
The Bottom Line
Involvement with the PTA/PTO is not an all or nothing thing. Parents/guardians can be involved as much or as little as they want. Many of the jobs are behind the scenes so those children who don’t want their parent/guardian at school don’t have to be upset by it.
Being a member of the PTA/PTO is beneficial and helpful on many fronts. The anxieties parents/guardians feel about their children and school change but the need for their engagement does not.
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